New York Times article biased against Gabrielle Giffords.
By Mike Reynolds
For Ability Maine

 
In January, after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords survived a horrific injury when she was shot in the head at a public meeting with her constituents, the country was bouyed by her courage. She was soon able to squeeze her husband's hand, even while unconscious. The shooter, Jared Loughner, has been found not to be competent to stand trial and is in a federal facility in Missouri for prisoners with mental health issues.

Rep. Giffords was shot on the left side of her brain and, as such, has been reported to have difficulty with communications. But her disability is more affecting her ability to verbalize or get the correct word out, possibly like a person who has aphasia from a stroke has to deal with.

While it is easy to cast Rep. Giffords as some sort of helpless victim and focus on how much she has lost since she was almost shot to death, she does not seem to fit that mold. Giffords was a vibrant person before her injury.  She is married to a astronaut who was a commander of the space shuttle, and she traveled to see his launch in May while she was going through intensive rehab. Far from being a passive victim, Rep. Giffords has had to relearn and adapt to her new life as a result of her brain injury.

 This is just like tens of thousands of  soldiers who have been dealing with Tramatic Brain Injuries as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, people who have car accidents or people with some forms of Cerebral Palsy. The brain has a tremendous ability to adapt to injury and regain function, and as a person with a brain injury myself, I knowsometimes one’s body is able to learn new things such as ways to balance on a bike or feed oneself without having your meal end up on your shirt!

But when the New York Times reported on  the first photos of Representative Giffords to be released after the shooting, the tone struck a nerve. Giffords had darker hair, compared to the brillant blonde hair she had before the shooting. She is also having some difficulty with speech. So *y*es, she isn’t the same person as before her injury, but it would be crazy to expect her to be.

The imposition of disability does not need to be tragic; Look at the new found popularity of Roger Ebert, who interacts with some awesome disability rights activists on twitter and has done some great interviews with disability focused media. If Gabrielle Giffords is the first representative to use an Assistive Technology device to speak, would that be a bad thing, or would every person who knows someone who uses a form of alternative communication see a shattering of a glass ceiling?  Representative Jim Langevin has been in the US House of Representatives for over a decade and had been a quadripledgic since a gunshot wound when he was a teenager. Langevin is not a story of tragedy; in fact he’s become an expert on military affairs and often will just hitch a ride in a military cargo plane as it is an accessible way for him to travel.
 
Adaptation  isn’t the “obscure” or “non-traditional" way to deal with a disability, it is the primal way of dealing with a body that had limitations on it. For the NYTimes to focus on Rep Giffords' darker hair color or her limitations is a failure to credit her with a miraculous recovery, a failure to credit her family with providing incredible support, or to even note that she probably is surrounded by incredible folks who push the boundaries of what humans are capable of.  When you are married to an astronaut, you might be a bit of an overachiever, so why not celebrate that?

 Without people with severe disabilities, the text prediction software on your cell phone might not be as advanced, since it was first designed to make communication easier for folks with Cerebral Palsy who are non-verbal.  Smartphones are just minature computers people with disabilities have relied on for decades. Why aren’t people spectulating about the cool Ipad2 that the Representative will have with her for her communication  needs?

Why wouldn’t Apple work directly with Rep Giffords to make an “unique” Ipad2, one specific to her needs but not available to the public? Sounds like quite a win-win on both parties' account.  Rep. Giffords gets an awesome communication device; it would be one that perhaps would be the envy of every technophile because it’d  would be extra special, like a black Amex card. Additionally, Apple gets insanely cool press about it’s latest technology and how it’s helping a person with a disability, and the story isn’t about any issues Rep. Giffords is having, but how, with assistive technology, she has overcome those barriers.

There is one final thought; spouses can be extremely competitive with each other. Giffords' husband spent his time in space chatting with Bono at a U2 concert in Seattle on June 4th. I am waiting to see what Gabrielle will do to top that. I have no idea what it will be,but I am certain she probably has something planned. (she did make a visit to the House floor to cast a vote on raising the debt ceiling.)